Fra’ John Dunlap, an Ottawa-born lawyer, is sworn in as the 81st prince and grand master of the Order of Malta. (Order of Malta photo)

Canadian lawyer named head of Order of Malta

A Canadian lawyer has been elected prince and 81st grand master of the Order of Malta, the first time a professed knight from the Americas has been chosen as head of the order.

Fra’ John Dunlap, a member of the Ontario Bar Association and the New York State Bar, was sworn in on May 3 as head of the order. He will hold the office for 10 years.

The position of grand master of the Order of Malta had been vacant since the death in 2020 of Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto.

Born in Ottawa in 1957, Dunlap studied at Nice University and graduated from the University of Ottawa. He obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Western Ontario and was awarded an honorary doctorate in public service by John Cabot University in Rome.  

An internationally respected lawyer specializing in corporate and immigration law, Dunlap has been legal adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations since 1997.

He joined the Order of Malta in 1996, taking solemn vows as a professed knight in 2008.

Dunlap realized his religious vocation in the mid-1980s while volunteering with patients with AIDs and other diseases in Harlem, New York. He has continued to volunteer weekly at the Cardinal Cooke Medical Center.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the oldest chivalric order in existence. It is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state subject to international law. 

In 2017, Pope Francis ordered reforms of the order’s religious life and its constitution. He approved the new constitutional charter and regulations last year.

In January, 111 members of the order assembled to elect new leadership, except the grand master, in an extraordinary chapter general convened by Pope Francis.

Meeting with the group after the extraordinary chapter general on Jan. 30, Pope Francis said, “You have written a very important page of history for the Order of Malta; thank you, you can be proud of it.”

Founded in the 11th century as a religious confraternity, the Order of Malta is today a combined religious and chivalric order with more than 13,000 members engaging in extensive hospital work, emergency medical assistance, and relief work for refugees and the needy.

It retains international recognition as a sovereign state and has diplomatic relations with 104 countries. A number of its members are leading figures in political, business, or professional life. 

 The grand master resides at the Order of Malta’s government seat, the Magistral Palace in Rome.

Catholic News Agency with B.C. Catholic files


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